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DONAHUE: I have to interrupt. We did our best and we thank you all. We know you are all coming from the heart, and we’ll be back in just a moment. Up next, classroom textbooks coming under fire, both sides duke it out over alleged bias in the books your kids are reading.
DONAHUE: Texas is a state not known to shy away from a fight and right now one is brewing. The public gets to weigh in on the textbooks that are used in public classrooms and conservatives and liberals are fighting over what’s in and what’s out.
Joining me now are Samantha Smoot, Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network, and here with me in the studio, Peggy Venable, a parent and Director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy. I welcome you both. You’re proud Texans, parents, you love America. You don’t like it when a textbook, for example, suggests that Islam is a peaceful religion, do I understand you?
PEGGY VENABLE, CITIZENS FOR SOUND
ECONOMY: CSE as an organization has not weighed in specifically on that issue. Some of our members have and I will tell you that what our intent is to open the process so that citizens can actually weigh in on issues that they have concerns about. Our focus is on the free market aspects of the textbooks.
DONAHUE: Yes, but our viewers have to understand what is this argument about? I remember Darwin. We didn’t want Darwin and it was the Gablers (ph) from Texas, almost destroyed any kind of reference to evolution in biology textbooks, and that is consequential because the billion-dollar textbooks industry doesn’t want to offend anybody. They want the business and they succumbed to this kind of pressure in Texas and it involves other classrooms across the nation as well.
Here’s just to take the rainforest reference here, environment science textbooks. “Destruction of the tropical rainforest could affect weather over the entire planet.” Look at that. That’s the original. “Destruction of the tropical rainforest” - here’s the change. “Tropical rainforest ecosystems impact weather over the entire planet.” God forbid we should say destructive.
Your point is what, that these are liberals writing these books and they use words like “destructive” and they’re not really sure that that’s what it is and they’re scaring our kids and it may not be true at all? Rah, rah for industry. Let’s build more smokestacks. I mean is this part of what you say?
VENABLE: Not at all. Actually what we want is accuracy in textbooks. We want it free of propaganda and in the social studies textbooks what we want to do is make sure that state law is taught and that is free market, democracy, and patriotism are requirements.
DONAHUE: What’s free market about pressure groups standing up to say “we won’t buy your textbook unless you change references that we find to be offensive?”
VENABLE: That’s the free market.
SAMANTHA SMOOT, TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK: Phil.
VENABLE: We are citizens. We are parents. We have every right to read the textbooks and weigh in and we should be pleased that citizens are actually participating in the process.
DONAHUE: Samantha Smoot, you are Executive of the Texas Freedom Network, can you hear me?
SMOOT: I sure can. Thanks, Phil.
DONAHUE: Very good. You’re a non-partisan, non-profit watchdog group founded seven and a half years ago to monitor the religious right in Texas. Well, you’re keeping your eye on them.
SMOOT: That’s right.
DONAHUE: Tell me your grievances here.
SMOOT: Well, our grievances are that groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy for decades now in Texas have had a stranglehold on textbooks. Six years ago, the last time we reviewed social studies books they criticized one book because they said there was overkill on emphasis of negativity of slavery.
They went after a book because there was a photograph of a woman carrying a briefcase, which they said undercut traditional family values. And just last year, because many people from these organizations showed up and testified that the science textbook in question was, of all things, anti-Christian and anti-free enterprise, high school seniors in Texas today don’t have an advancement placement level science textbook in environmental science.
VENABLE: Let’s set the record straight.
SMOOT: Just last week - no, just last week, Peggy, folks from your group showed up and testified that these textbooks were teaching Native American religions but not Christianity, that the books should describe America as a Christian nation founded on Biblical values, and that these books should include - should emphasize the fact that America ended slavery, not the fact that we perpetuated it. This is a handful of activists with a very far right wing agenda and for decades now they’ve controlled the process in Texas.
VENABLE: You know this is so ridiculous.
DONAHUE: Let’s hear.
VENABLE: We are constantly called the Christian right and the fact is we have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian right.
VENABLE: We were not involved win the textbooks. We didn’t have anything to do with - if you will let me talk please. You had your say. Let me have mine.
DONAHUE: Go ahead, Peggy, please. You’re on.
VENABLE: You said that we had something to do with a woman carrying a briefcase. Heaven forbid. We weren’t even involved in those textbooks. I think you’re lumping a lot of organizations together. The fact is when you lose control of a system then you start crying foul and saying that there is censorship taking place and that’s what you’ve been saying.
VENABLE: How can it be censorship when we open the system and we encourage every citizen who wants to participate to do so.
SMOOT: Peggy, you are not opening the system.
VENABLE: Who did you have at the hearing last week? I didn’t see you testifying or...
SMOOT: You’re closing the system.
VENABLE: ...or any of your members.
SMOOT: You’re closing the system. You have repeatedly said that you have met with publishers before these books even reached the public review process to let these publishers know what your group of narrow folks with an extreme political agenda wants in the books and wants out of books.
VENABLE: Samantha, we’ve never even talked about it.
SMOOT: There’s a book that’s very well regarded.
DONAHUE: Let’s talk about some other...
SMOOT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) repeatedly in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) class reports.
DONAHUE: Samantha, let me just - here is a - this is the communist visual. Here is what - here is just an example of what upsets you. This is from World Explorer, People, Places, and Cultures. We learn in school about other peoples, other cultures. “In a communist system” the textbook said, “the central government owns all property such as farms and factories for the benefit of its citizens.” You don’t like that.
VENABLE: No, I don’t.
DONAHUE: Tell me.
VENABLE: Communism is not for the benefit of its citizens. As a matter of fact, we are a free market state and if that were not all that’s said, if there were more added to that, I might not have a problem with it, but these are sixth graders. These are sixth graders that we think that is basically instilling in them the sense that communism is the right way to go. It’s for the good of all people. Communism is not. It is a failed system. We need to be teaching that there are problems with communism and this is why. You don’t own property under communism. You don’t have the freedoms we enjoy today under communism.
DONAHUE: “Another advantage is that people do not have to worry about what they will study or where they will work or if they might lose their job because these decisions are made for them.” You don’t like that?
VENABLE: Absolutely not. I think the bottom line is if it said more, it simply says that these decisions are made for them.
DONAHUE: So the kid will think, boy, this is wonderful.
VENABLE: Some lazy kid might think that sounds just great.
DONAHUE: How do you feel about that, Samantha?
SMOOT: Well you know we’re not talking about-if we were talking about facts here, there would be no debate. We’re talking about some great confusion on the part of a very few people about what values should be taught in the home and in houses of worship and what information should be taught in the public schools.
DONAHUE: It is also important to say that this kind of pressure in Texas, as has been evidenced with the biology controversy there, influences the textbook that children see all over the nation. This is a billion dollar industry and nothing makes the textbook publishers quake more than these meetings where people are coming down on top of their product, so.
VENABLE: Well, it’s more than a billion dollar industry. We spend a half billion every year on textbooks and instructional materials just in Texas.
DONAHUE: You had one final thing to say, Ms. Smoot.
SMOOT: Sure. Activists like Peggy are holding a loaded gun to the head of the publishers. I can quote her by saying this publisher didn’t want to jeopardize their sales in our state and so they...
DONAHUE: Ten seconds.
SMOOT: ...withdrew a book even from consideration. Local districts should decide which books to buy. These right-wing activists have no place censoring our textbooks.
DONAHUE: I regret that I have to interrupt you there. Back with a man who is spending money to try to stop spending money.